Friday, March 17, 2017

The Bible and Alcohol

For starters, this post is not meant to offend anyone on either side of this debate. It is intended to be educational on the subject of what the Bible says about the topic of drinking alcoholic beverages.

Having said that, both sides will find things they agree with in this post and both sides will find things they disagree with. If you decide to use this post to back your point in a discussion, great! But please use it within it's full context. The Bible has a lot to say about drinking.

I think it will be the easiest to start with the conclusions that we should all agree on, according to the Bible, DRUNKENNESS IS A SIN (Ephesians 5:18). On that point, I do not think I need to elaborate too much.

One justification that people use to say that drunkenness is alright, according to Biblical standards, is that Jesus was referred to as a "drunkard" (Matthew 11:19). It is true that people made those claims. They were trying to find fault with Jesus so that he could be executed. In Matthew 11:19, Jesus is addressing the hypocrisy of these claims. The people condemn John for not drinking, while these same people condemn Jesus for drinking.  His accusers are actually quoting a command out of Deuteronomy in an effort to condemn Jesus: "They shall say to the elders, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.' Then all the men of his town are to STONE HIM TO DEATH. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid" (Deuteronomy 21:20-21). Clearly, Jesus was not a drunkard, but drunkenness is condemned in Scripture.

Concerning drinking, in general, there have been attempts to cast condemnation on the entire practice of drinking. It is clear that the Bible condemns drunkenness, but it also has some strong passages against drinking. Proverbs 31:4, 6 reads, "it is not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer...Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish!" Proverbs 23 strongly warns against even spending time with people who make a practice of drinking and warns against personal indulgence of alcohol when it might seem to be most pleasurable. There is definitely a case to be made against drinking, as a regular practice, within the Bible.

However, contextually the Bible is not condemning drinking an alcoholic beverage on every occasion. The impression that these verses leave are that people who are consumed by alcohol have impaired judgment. We'd be lying if we said we don't know what they are talking about. I don't think a word for alcoholic had yet been invented, but it is clear that it is, in most instances, referring to people that have given themselves over to a routine of drinking excess amounts of alcohol. Once again, I defy anyone to tell me this is not clear given the context. In relation to "The king" in Proverbs 31, it is a very clear admonition that a king should not drink. Given the cultural context, however, I find it hard to believe that the king was discouraged from drinking at all.

Numbers 6:20 states, clearly, when a Nazirite, who does not drink wine, was permitted to drink wine. Numbers 18:12 reads, "I give you all the finest olive oil and all the finest new wine and grain they give the Lord as the firstfruits of their harvest." Wine in this context is a blessing. If we go into the New Testament, the case that drinking was permitted is even stronger. Jesus' first miracle in Cana in Galilee was to turn water into wine (John 2). One of the most significant practices in Christianity was instituted by Jesus, who established it through the drinking of wine and then declared that he would drink it again with his disciples in heaven (Matthew 26:29)! This brings us to the next argument, did the people of the Bible drink real wine or non-fermented grape juice?

An argument has arisen that claims that the juice that was Biblically approved was not fermented. On this subject, I have heard both sides of the debate. One Greek professor, of whom I am aware, said that it was merely grape juice, according to the language in Greek. Another professor I had, that has a doctorate in both Greek and Hebrew, who studied Greek at a seminary that required its students to translate the entire New Testament from Greek, and attended a Jewish seminary to get his doctorate in Near Eastern languages (Hebrew), WHO DOES NOT DRINK HIMSELF, stated that the word in the Greek is absolutely implying that the beverage WAS ALCOHOLIC. The first professor (Greek only) is a smart man that I highly respect, but had less than a decade of studying Greek. The latter professor devoted decades of his life to learning both Greek and Hebrew. To me, the Greek/Hebrew professor's word is good enough for me and the fact he does not use it as a justification to drink further strengthens his argument. I'm not going to get into the actual word study because neither I, nor the people who take the counter position, are educated enough in Greek or Hebrew to make an authoritative claim on the subject.

Romans 14:21 states, "It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall." People use this argument to say that a person should not drink. Overall, I agree. However, most of the time it is not believers trying to protect the weak in faith from drinking. Instead, most of the time, my experience is that it is believers of strong faith who are trying to discourage other believers who are strong in faith from drinking. It was either Billy or Franklin Graham that told a story about how one of their friends who lived in France invited them to dinner. In France, everyone drinks wine and a glass for every meal. Their friend said, "You refuse to drink wine. And you do it unto the Lord. My wife and I drink wine. And we do it unto the Lord."

Colossians 2:16 states, "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink..." We need to be sensitive to those weaker in faith, but it is not our duty to allow them to remain infants in faith. The Apostle Paul and Timothy are the perfect example. Paul had Timothy circumcised so that the Jewish believers would hear him out regarding his ministry to the Gentiles. But when it came to the doctrine of circumcision, when he taught the Gentiles, he said that he did not encourage them to be circumcised in the flesh, but in the heart (Romans 2:29). And his rebuke toward Jewish believers who thought circumcision was necessary was harsh (Galatians 5:12)! There are other issues we could wrongfully discourage and have been discouraged at some points in church history. Marriage is one of the practices that we could easily condemn in the light of Scripture and yet I do not know a single person who would say that marriage should be forbidden throughout the church. Or what about modesty? Or women covering their heads or being silent in church? I'm not discouraging any of these things, but there are clear commands given within Scripture concerning these practices that are far more clear than the justification for churches that prohibit alcohol altogether.

This blog post is in response to a specific article that I skimmed regarding this topic in which the person who wrote the article stated, "I don't know a single person who would say drinking alcohol makes them feel anymore Christ-like." Fine and good, but what other pleasures, that are not prohibited by Scripture, do not make you feel more Christ-like? Maybe, eating a steak? Sitting in a hot tub? Drinking a soda? Eating a candy bar? Relaxing? I think you get the point.

St. Patrick brewed beer to keep the Irish, who drank a lot of whiskey, from getting drunk. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien would wind down at a bar over a glass of beer and discuss their books. I even heard one bold pastor say that he was going to enjoy a glass of his favorite beer as he watched the Super Bowl at home. Drinking is comforting to some people like eating ice cream is comforting to others.

My stance on alcohol: Drunkenness is wrong, period. Drinking in moderation is acceptable. Abstaining from alcohol is acceptable and should be practiced when it is clear it could cause someone to stumble. Looking down on fellow believers who enjoy a glass of wine or a cold beer from time-to-time is ill advised.

Concerning church prohibitions on drinking: I believe that individual churches have the right to lay down their criteria concerning church membership or eldership. If that includes abstinence from alcohol, that is acceptable.

I think my Scriptural case is strong, but what are your thoughts?


  1. I think overall you are sound in this position, but I think there is another level to consider. We generally define alcohol use in three categories: (1) to the extreme of becoming drunk; (2) moderation in drinking; and (3) abstinence in drinking. However, I believe the second category is too broad to include all approaches. For example, I would suggest that there are two sub-categories in this second category: (a) Habitual drinkers (who do not drink to the level of drunkenness, but who drink regularly), and (b) Occasional drinkers (who drink on special occasions, such as marriages, celebrations, anniversaries, and such. The person, for example, who drinks everyday but does not practice drunkenness is a different situation from the person who chooses to toast a married couple with a cup of wine. One drinks habitually, the other drinks occasionally. I believe we need to include four categories, not three. John the Baptist did not drink at all, but Jesus did participate in occasional drinking. It is good to research this and discuss this. Having worked for over twenty years in rescue ministry, and seeing the damage alcohol has done to too many, my personal choice is to choose not to drink. I have seen too many Christians leave the faith over church leaders who chose to exercise their liberty to drink socially even when they knew it might offend their brethren. Dr. James Davison

  2. As a Roman Catholic, I find what you have to say Biblically sound. It has always been my husband's point of view that new wine was not merely grape juice, but a form of wine that was actually higher in alcohol.

    That being said, I have beloved family members who are,thanks to God, no longer practicing alcoholics but recovering. As a family, it is an unsaid rule that we can cook with alcohol so long as the dish is cooked awhile. We do not drink in front of them,however. Also, from seeing my relative's situation for many years, some of their children choose not to drink at all. It's our policy (my husband and I's), to simply adapt to the situation.

    As far as drunkenness, as we age it's a rare occurrence for us. There are so many other fun things to do. It's also expensive. Thoughts?

    Kelly Pelton